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updated: 1/25/2013 4:33 PM

Is Cathy Rigby ready for final flight as 'Peter Pan'?

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  • Cathy Rigby returns to Chicago in the title role of the musical "Peter Pan" at the Cadillac Palace Theatre from Wednesday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 10.

    Cathy Rigby returns to Chicago in the title role of the musical "Peter Pan" at the Cadillac Palace Theatre from Wednesday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 10.
    Courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

By Scott Morgan

On a previous tour, Cathy Rigby claimed that she would bid farewell to the musical role of "Peter Pan." Yet, she is on the road again as Peter in a new tour that comes to Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre for a two-week stint starting Wednesday, Jan. 30.

"I changed my mind," Rigby said with a laugh when interviewed by phone from Los Angeles. "I had been doing some other shows, everything from 'Steel Magnolias' to 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' and I thought, 'Oh, I really miss this.'"

So once again the former Olympic gymnast and former ABC Sports commentator is singing "I Won't Grow Up" as Peter Pan takes the Darling children on adventures in "Neverland."

Rigby first played the role regionally after retiring from gymnastics in the early 1970s, but it was in 1990 that she established herself as the pre-eminent "Peter Pan" of the past quarter century with several tours and visits to Broadway (where she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1991). Rigby and her husband, Tom McCoy, co-produce the tour in addition to producing a professional theater series at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in Southern California.

Even though Rigby has also starred in other tours like "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Seussical the Musical," she's mostly known for taking on Peter Pan in the much-loved 1954 Broadway musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play by composer Mark Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh (with additional contributions by songwriters Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne).

"If it's something you love, then it's like being asked, 'Do you mind being called a gymnast?' or 'Do you mind being a mother?'" said Rigby when asked if she worried about being only known for "Peter Pan." "I've been the most grateful career-wise for having this opportunity, and it's nice to be associated for something positive that has great memories for our family and all the families who come to see it."

Another thing Rigby can crow about is being able to do the physically rigorous musical role at age 60, a feat that surpasses other famous "Peter Pan" predecessors like Sandy Duncan and Mary Martin. But it's not a walk in the park at any age.

"Not just athletically, but emotionally," Rigby said. "You're changing genders, you're changing your voice, you have nine songs and probably some of the most physical sword fighting, flying and dancing that one could want in a show."

For this outing of "Peter Pan," new flying effects have been added, requiring Rigby to wear a double flying harness that is heavier. And it's a different physical production from the previous tour.

"It's been really an amazing, different adventure this time around," Rigby said, adding that she meets so many people who saw "Peter Pan" as kids who are now bringing their own kids or grandkids to see the show. "I have more of an appreciation of what the show is and has meant to people through the years."

Rigby is happy to return to Chicago in part because her husband is from the area. But she isn't looking forward to the weather. Rigby also has another reason for local audiences to see her as "Peter Pan."

"I'm not going to go out on the road again with it," Rigby said. "And I mean it this time."

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